Authors: Judith Rossner

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

To the Precipice, 1966

Nine Months in the Life of an Old Maid, 1969

Any Minute I Can Split, 1972

Looking for Mr. Goodbar, 1975

Attachments, 1977

Emmeline, 1980

August, 1983

His Little Women, 1990

Olivia: Or, The Weight of the Past, 1994

Perfidia, 1997


Although she did not gain a national reputation until the publication of her fourth novel, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Judith Rossner began to pursue a writing career before she had even perfected her penmanship. Encouraged by her mother, Dorothy Shapiro Perelman, a teacher and would-be author, Judith as a young child dictated her short stories to her parents, who copied them onto paper.{$I[AN]9810001618}{$I[A]Rossner, Judith}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Rossner, Judith}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Rossner, Judith}{$I[tim]1935;Rossner, Judith}

Judith Perelman attended public schools in her native New York City and took classes at City College (now City University of New York). In 1954, at the age of nineteen, she dropped out of college to marry Robert Rossner, a teacher and writer. She was convinced of her destiny in the world of letters and claimed that her writing must take precedence over her education.

In 1966, after the birth of their two children, Jean and Daniel, Rossner published her first novel, To the Precipice. Although the book did not sell particularly well, it served to establish a prevailing theme, the conflict between selfishness and altruism, that would figure prominently in Rossner’s canon throughout the coming decades. The work addresses the dilemma of a Jewish female protagonist forced to choose between the man she loves and the wealthy man who loves her. Although a few critics praised the book, the majority viewed it as formulaic melodrama containing unsympathetic characters. Her second novel, Nine Months in the Life of an Old Maid, a gothic tale drawn around an insane woman living in an isolated mansion with her sister, received much the same reaction. Rossner invested three years in the manuscript and netted only about three thousand dollars from book sales.

In the late 1960’s Robert Rossner moved his family from New York City to New Hampshire to initiate a free school. Judith Rossner did not acclimate well to rural living and longed to return to the city. The move precipitated the end of the marriage, but it eventually lent inspiration for Rossner’s third work, Any Minute I Can Split, a tribute to the 1960’s generation viewed through life in a commune. J. D. O’Hara, writing in Saturday Review, commented that the book depicted the tentativeness of relationships while displaying “the triumph of situational existence.”

In order to support her children and herself after the divorce, Rossner accepted a position as a secretary. She rose early each morning to put in two hours at her “real” work before going to her paid job. Seeking financial independence–or at least enough money to “buy” a year’s writing time–Rossner began work on the novel Attachments. She had decided, however, that the venture was not commercial enough when she was contacted by Esquire magazine to write an article for an upcoming women’s issue. The suggested piece concerned the true story of Roseanne Quinn, a young schoolteacher who had been murdered by a man she met in a singles bar.

Although Esquire ultimately declined Rossner’s treatment of the incident, the author was inspired. Here, at last, was a powerful story that offered the possibility of pulling her out of the financial mire. Hoping to gain her year off, Rossner published Looking for Mr. Goodbar in 1975. Not only was the book monetarily successful–the paperback rights sold for $300,000 and the film rights for $225,000–it established Rossner as an author of considerable literary merit.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar had a wide-ranging appeal in its portrayal of the sexual dilemma faced by many single Americans during the 1970’s. The protagonist, Teresa Dunn, mistakes promiscuity for liberation and leads a double life. By day she is Miss Dunn, a teacher of small children, but by night she becomes Terry, a woman on the prowl seeking sexual satisfaction. The book reiterates the Rossner theme of the conflict between selfishness and altruism and becomes, in essence, a morality tale. Rossner generally returns to the same moral conclusion in her works: Traditional values and traditional marriage, though often confining, are the best routes to survival.

After the overwhelming success of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Rossner returned to her work on Attachments, which was published in 1977. The work presents the bizarre relationship between Siamese twins, who have each married. Although critical reaction was mixed, some believed that the novel effectively depicted the juxtaposition between individuality and to need to “attach” to another. Attachments was followed in 1980 by Emmeline, a modern-day Oedipal myth, theoretically based on a true story, and in 1983 by August, which features the shared yet diverse points of view of a patient and her psychoanalyst. During this period Rossner married Mort Persky, a magazine editor, but the two were subsequently divorced.

Mother-daughter relationships again came to the fore in Olivia, the story of a woman who struggles to rebuild her life and repair her relationship with her daughter Olivia after her abusive former husband has turned Olivia against her. Perfidia again centers on a murder case, telling the story of a girl, Maddy, whose irresponsible mother Anita turns to alcohol and drugs after the birth of a younger brother. They settle in the 1970’s hippie culture of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Maddy suffers increasing neglect. The novel progresses predictably as daughter assumes the adult role while mother becomes ever more abusive, finally forcing her child to mount the ultimate defense against the mother’s drunken rage.

Although Looking for Mr. Goodbar has been her primary critical and financial success, Rossner maintains a reputation for depicting complex relationships in contemporary urban America. Her work gains power from a characteristic bent toward understatement, and her writing has been compared favorably with that of Joyce Carol Oates.

BibliographyHite, Molly. The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminine Literature. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. A discussion of the attempt on the part of women writers to create a different literary style that expresses the feminine view of situations. Argues that while Rossner’s style is not markedly innovative, the tone of frenzy in Attachments captures a woman’s desperate striving to piece together the chaotic and fragmented world in which she lives.McAlexander, Patricia Jewell. “Judith Rossner.” In American Novelists Since World War II, Second Series, edited by James E. Kibler. Vol. 6 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1980. Provides biographical and critical information.McFadden, Cyra. Review of His Little Women, by Judith Rossner. The New York Times Book Review, April 22, 1990. Discusses with Rossner the background to writing the book.Wolff, Cynthia. “The Radcliffean Gothic Model.” In The Female Gothic, edited by Juliann Fleenor. Montreal: Eden Press, 1983. Discusses how the depiction of female sexuality by Ann Radcliffe influenced authors, including Rossner.
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